Sometimes, depending on your career choice, pursuing your dream job can be a complicated journey, but most of the time it’s a pretty clear cut process, and it generally mirrors the process listed below.
Whether pursuing a vocation inside or outside of the church, it usually goes something like this.
- Determine the training/education needed for that field.
- Pursue that education and (if possible) internships/apprenticeships in the field during your education.
- After graduating or completing training, start searching job boards and applying for desired openings.
- Land a lower level job in the field, and spend the next several years “working your way up” to your desired position.
Obviously there are exceptions to this process, but in general I think this is a pretty accurate description of a large majority of career paths.
I would also say that for the most part, in recent history, this has been the path for many people pursuing pastoral ministry.
And while this process makes sense for pursuing most “secular” careers out there, I have become convinced that this path is not always the best path to take for those pursuing pastoral ministry. In fact, the longer I’m in ministry, the more I believe that landing your “dream job” in ministry should be more like finding a family and less like pursuing a career.
My personal journey has looked more like the former than the latter. This has not necessarily happened intentionally, but as I’ve traversed this path, there have been a few insights I’ve gathered that are worth considering for anyone thinking about pursuing ministry not as a job, but as a calling.
Pursuing ministry opportunities should be based on our convictions, and not our desire for paid positions.
Early on in ministry I was faced with a difficult decision. I was doing student ministry at a growing church in my home community, with a paid, part-time salary. I knew there were likely going to be plenty of opportunities for advancement into full-time paid positions in the future. I was grateful for my church, but as I formed my own theological views and ministry philosophy, I knew eventually I’d have to find a church more closely aligned with my growing convictions.
When that new church presented itself, I found that there was room to serve and much to learn, but not as a “paid pastor.” The question became do I stay in the place where I can collect a pay check and maybe “move up,” or do I go to the church that I align with theologically and philosophically, even if that means I have to pick up an outside job to pay the bills?
I chose the second option, and if I had to do it all again, I would make the same decision every time.
As grateful as I am for the church I was at, transitioning to a church that I could go “all in” with has been an invaluable experience and has contributed to my formation as a pastor in ways I never could have imagined. This is counter-intuitive to how we might “pursue a career” in the corporate world, but it’s a key consideration when pursuing a calling to ministry.
Pursuing a calling toward ministry is not a call to climb a corporate ladder.
If we were to make a Venn diagram illustrating all the differences and similarities between church leadership and business leadership, there would certainly be a great deal of overlap between these two fields. And while those similarities are good to learn from, some of the most important elements of leadership within the church are the ones that fall outside of that area of overlap.
CEOs aren’t called to be known for their love, or for their hospitality, or their gentleness.
If this is true, then our pursuit and preparation for these two vocations should look differently from each other. The church is not a business. Therefore, our pursuit of service in ministry should have distinguishing marks that remind us of this truth.
Pursuing ministry can often test our motives for serving in a particular role.
Many of us are familiar with the idea of “paying your dues” in a lower level position in order to earn your place at the table with the big dogs. And while that language makes sense in the corporate world, it should have little to do with serving in Jesus’ church.
When we view ministry positions as stepping stones to the next, more highly desired position, our motives for taking so-called “lower level” roles can often be less than sincere.
But if ministry is less like climbing a ladder and more like serving with a family, we’re more likely to serve in any given position (paid or unpaid) where our gifts can be utilized for the good of the church. This is a win for our personal growth and it is a win for our churches.
Pursuing ministry is not about what we do for Jesus, but what he’s done for us.
Pastoral ministry can be a tricky calling to navigate for our sinful hearts. Scripture reminds us that anyone who seeks this office, desires a noble task. But as a young man in pursuit of pastoral ministry it has often been difficult to untangle the parts of me that are pursuing a noble task, and the parts of me that are being enticed toward what some would call “ministry idolatry,” especially during times when I didn’t hold an official “pastor job.”
Being forced to go through seasons of not being “Pastor Ricardo,” but just “Ricardo,” has been a humbling and sometimes painful experience. Humbling because it’s reminded me that Jesus doesn’t need me to build his church. Painful, because it’s required me to deal with the sinful parts of my heart that seek to build my identity on what I accomplish for Jesus, instead of what he’s accomplished for me.
And yet, confronting some of these issues has put me in a position that I can now minister from a healthier posture; not seeking to accomplish much for Jesus, but seeking to follow Jesus more faithfully.
While the Lord certainly could have taught this lesson another way, I think he used this path toward ministry to help refine me in some important ways.
Pursue Jesus. He’ll provide the ministry.
The journey toward ministry can be a daunting pursuit, and job boards and church staffing websites will probably be around forever. But for the good of the church and our own hearts, I think all young pastors could benefit from thinking about our journey less as a career path, and more like a calling to follow Jesus more closely.
This may not always lead to paid ministry positions, but it will likely lead us to serving the church family God has for us that we never would have found otherwise.